When Ka’Deem Carey went to training camp this year, he was fourth or fifth on the unofficial depth chart, and he wasn’t completely sure he’d leave it as a member of the Chicago Bears.
The young running back, picked by the Bears in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, played sparingly for the first 14 weeks of last season, then dressed but never saw the field the last two weeks. He carried just 35 times and played a total of just 100 snaps all season, and was a general non-factor for a 5-11 team ranked near the bottom in rushing.
Then the Bears, with their new coaching and personnel staffs, invested their fourth-round pick this year on another running back, Jeremy Langford. That “lit a fire under my butt,” Carey told CSNChicago.com. “It motivated me even more.”
The real motivation, though, had started before that. He’d been back to Arizona during the offseason and his coaches echoed a voice within the Bears organization – Carey wouldn’t say who – that screamed a harsh message to him.
“Looking back, I realize that I didn’t know the playbook as much as I needed to,” Carey recalled. “So that prevented me from playing fast and really showing my talents.”
It wasn’t a case of work ethic. “I knew the plays but I didn’t really know the defenses,” Carey said. “The 3-4 defense, for instance, ‘what do you do if this happens?’ Not just knowing your offense, but knowing the defense and what they’re in and what they’re going to try to do.
“I wasn’t looking that far. I just thought, know your plays and go out and play. In college you just played. But as a pro, you have to know everything on that field. That’s a ‘pro.’
“It took this offseason for me to realize that.”
The light had indeed come on. More important, it stayed on. Carey already has 35 carries, one fewer than his 2014 total, and he’s scored a touchdown against San Francisco.
But a backup running back is at extreme roster risk if he cannot be an effective contributor on special teams. Carey was not as a rookie, and he knew it.
“Now I’m in the special-teams playbook,” he said.
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The new coaching staff had no investment in Carey, who competed for the No. 2 spot behind Matt Forte, but ultimately settled in below Langford at No. 3. It fell to Carey to impress his new bosses.
“Ka’Deem was a little bit of a mystery to us because he hadn’t done a whole lot of special teams,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers conceded. “Ka’Deem’s made a lot of strides. [Special teams are] foreign to him. The things that aren’t foreign to him are contact and want-to and desire to be really good at stuff.
“It works against him sometimes. He’s such an over-aggressive player and he plays with such an aggressive temperament sometimes he’s got to kind of rein himself back in.”
Carey has earned a spot on kickoff return and has brought two kicks back an average of 19 yards.
“I want to get on the field,” Carey said. “I want to hit somebody. I want to get the ball. I want to score. Do something. Dang, I want to play some football!”